Tea tables were produced in large numbers in virtually every state of the nation by the middle of the 18th century. The table’s tilting top allowed for it to be placed in the corner of a room or against the wall for storage when not in use. Tilting tables, including smaller versions known simply as stands or candlestands, all operate on the same principle. The underside of the top is fitted with a pair of battens or cleats usually secured with wood screws. The battens rotate on a pair of small pintles protruding from the sides of the block or birdcage support atop the turned pedestal. More refined examples are fitted with what is referred to as a “birdcage”, which allows the table’s top to rotate for easier serving while in the down or fixed position. The birdcage is usually composed of two flat blocks with small turned pillars at each corner between them.
This table’s “birdcage” however is composed of four piece of wood dovetailed together to form a small open ended box-type support. This type of support was frequently employed in England but is rarely encountered on American tables with the exception of tables produced in the coastal plain of North Carolina, especially the Edenton area situated on the Albemarle Sound. Several tilting tea tables from the Edenton area are known with each sharing slight variations of the same overall construction practices common to Edenton tables of this form and period. These include but are not limited to tops having unmolded edges resting on box-type birdcages with blunt end battens over turned pillars often decorated with similar flattened urns and resting on three cabriole legs ending with broad pad feet. The underside of the pillar of most Edenton tea tables and stands are fitted with a large turned cap or “boss” concealing the dovetail joinery of the legs and pillar.
Several variations exist in the method in which the legs are decorated. Many tables simply have relief carving to the lower edge of the legs with either small-carved volutes or in many cases small turned bosses that are applied to the lower surface of the leg on each side where it joins the pillar. Other tables, such as this example employ decorative piercing to the lower portion of the legs as well as the small sprig nailed bosses. Tables from the Edenton school are most often composed entirely of mahogany with at least one walnut example known. Similar documented examples have been published and may be seen in John Bivins, The Furniture of Coastal North Carolina 1700-1820, figures 5.69 and 5.70, pages 151-153. Another is illustrated and discussed in Hurst and Prown, Southern Furniture 1680-1830, The Colonial Williamsburg Collection, figure 99, pages 315-318.